interiors & styling

Design Discussion : Accent Walls + Alternative Ideas

It has been quite some time since I’ve shared a Design Discussion post… almost a year! Every once in awhile an interior or home related topic will cross my mind, that I feel would make great conversation here on the blog. This used to be one of my favorite series, so I figured it was time to resurrect some controversial design topics. Obviously these posts are meant to be fun, as I enjoy chatting and thinking about all sorts of design related topics- that are both popular and unpopular. It’s always fascinating and enlightening to hear unique perspectives, and learn about everyone’s preferences. I also enjoy sharing my personal opinion and design philosophy surrounding some of these touchy interior subjects. Before we dive in, I’ll say this- I’m a firm believer you should create a home you love and enjoy (not matter what is trending). I trust we can all be respectful of our differences and interior preferences. Let’s be sure to keep it friendly! I know I don’t have to say that to 99.9% of my friends here, but just in case. Let’s do it… click through to chat accent walls with me. FYI- all of the images throughout this post provide great examples for alternative ideas. Did you already guess where I stand?

Last week, I was chatting with a friend and she asked my opinion on accent walls. She was contemplating a bold paint color in her home, but seemed a bit intimidated to fully commit. She wanted to know if single color painted accent walls were totally out of style. Ask any of my close friends and they’ll tell you I’m the type of gal who doesn’t hold back, when it comes to honestly voicing my opinion. While traditional accent walls simply aren’t my thing and I’m not a fan of the look- I do think there is a time & place for everything. After all- design limits are meant to be pushed. Could it work in the right space? Sure. Is it something I want to apply in my home? Not in the traditional sense… which is the exact feedback I shared with her.

First, let’s chat about what I classify as an “accent wall” and under what circumstances they work well.

An accent wall is an interior wall that is typically treated in a different manner than the walls surrounding it. Typically it is painted a different color.

I think accent walls work best when they’re more about texture and less about color, but we’ll get to that in a minute. In the early 2000’s, painted accent walls were very trendy. Lots of people were experimenting with solid, bold colors in their homes (which is wonderful)– but only on one wall. The issue with that? It can really break up a room, making a space look compartmentalized in a choppy, non cohesive, random way. It can also draw emphasis to less-than-appealing architectural elements, like low ceilings, lack of millwork, and can pull focus from more important or impressive vignettes. I also think accent walls of this style can appear dated. So how exactly does one achieve an inspired look, in regards to “accent” walls?

My advice would be to think about accent walls in other ways- aside from strictly paint color. First, ask yourself why you would like to “accent” or draw focus to a specific wall? I think the reasoning should be about more than not wanting to fully commit to the entire space. Is it to distract from a different area that isn’t working well? To highlight the most impressive vignette in the room? Would you like to add interest to an architectural element? Or simply pull one into a space? This can be done in a variety of updated & thoughtful ways…

Think about texture… you could accent a wall by adding wall-to-wall drapery panels for added softness. You could draw the eye upward with a textural tongue-and-groove or board-and-batten wall treatment, or you could install a mural or subtle wallpaper for a pop of pattern. Those ideas feel more updated, intentional, and inspired to me, as opposed to slapping some bold paint on a single wall in fear of making the entire room feel too dark or crazy.

I also don’t love the idea of treating a single, random wall differently without intention. Therefore, I wanted to share some alternative ideas that use bold color, texture, and pattern that feel more thoughtful, are still less committal, better for the budget, and won’t look dated in the years to come.

Ideas to Try Instead…

Consider this a jumping off point or brainstorming list of alternative accent wall ideas…

  • Highlight Architectural Elements with Paint // Paint your fireplace, try contrast trim, paint interior doors, fireplaces, range hoods, built-ins, a wall of cabinets, the backside of shelving etc.
  • Paint the Ceiling // The exception I have to “accent walls” isn’t even a wall… it’s the ceiling. I love a contrast ceiling in certain spaces! It can really provide cohesion.
  • Go Bold in a Small Spaces // Experiment with bold paint colors or wallpaper in smaller spaces like a closet, window nook, powder room, or hallway.
  • Install Textural Building Elements // Add interest with floor-to-ceiling tile in the kitchen or bath, try board-and-batten or tongue-and-groove wall treatments, plan an exposed brick wall, etc.
  • Play with Finishing Techniques // Venetian plaster, roman clay, or a high gloss paint finish can also add interest to walls and the ceiling.
  • Soften a Wall with Drapery Panels // Regardless if there are window or doors to be covered… use drapery panels to add interest (like I did in my basement).
  • Paint Contrasting Millwork // Choose a different color than the wall for millwork- like wainscoting, for a color blocked look.
  • Use Wall Decor to Make an Impact // Install a giant gallery wall, tapestries or textiles, oversized artwork, or upholstered wall panels for a unique application.
  • Go Bold in the Entire Room // Simply paint the entire room a bold color… you may be surprised just how much you like it! I’d take that over an accent wall any day.

All of these things can be considered “accents” that highlight and define certain vignettes within a space. Hopefully some of those bullet points will get your wheels turning. It’s funny… I hadn’t thought or talked about accent walls in years, but that conversation sparked some ideas on how that term and treatment could really evolve for a more meaningful & timeless interior look.

If you’re looking for more Design Discussion topics to read up on, I’ll link them below… this series continues to intrigue me! I’d also love to hear your topic ideas for our next design chat. Any thoughts?

I think the takeaway is this… my personal preference is to avoid doing a solid bold color on a random wall. Instead, I’d commit to using color in an intentional & thoughtful way (an updated “accent wall”, if you will), as well as within textural wall treatments, while considering architectural elements you can highlight. It’s also important to choose what area you are highlighting wisely. Thought provoking? I hope so! I’d love to hear your take on accent walls in the comment section below… and of course- take this with a grain of salt, and always do what’s best for you in your home! Here’s to a colorful and inspiring year ahead- no matter how that translates at home.

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  • Reply
    Peggi
    January 25, 2023 at 5:59 am

    Good morning! Way to shake up a wintry Wednesday, Sarah! Love it…the discussion, not accent walls. To my eyes, the traditional accent wall looks unfinished, but I’m here for some of the more updated, intentional iterations! I really like the look of ceiling treatments, especially cozy wood or fun wallpaper. Erin Kestenbaum’s closet remains a fave! I’m on the fence about murals, but I reserve the right to change my opinion when presented with a stunning example. I’m always down for contrast moulding and millwork! I’m picky about consistent and deliberate placement though. I have seen some lovely kitchens where specific cabinets feature wood tones and others are painted. This one gets into tricky territory for me. My brain wants to instinctively understand the purpose. Going bold: that I understand! Regardless of my personal preferences, I definitely think folks should make their homes theirs. You’ve got to feel comfortable within your own walls! I say yes to a colorful and inspiring year! Cheers, Sarah!💜

    • Reply
      Sarah
      January 25, 2023 at 8:21 am

      Good morning, good morning! We’re having a wintry Wednesday here, too. Lots of snow- it’s actually beautiful out, so no complaints here. I definitely agree with you on the traditional accent walls looking unfinished. The ceiling treatments are fun! I would love to wallpaper our bedroom ceiling someday… something pretty to look at before dozing off each night. I love Erin and her closet- that’s also a favorite of mine. Home should certainly feel like home and bring us joy- regardless of what that looks like! I hope you have a great day- stay warm out there :)

  • Reply
    Lauren
    January 25, 2023 at 7:38 am

    Good morning! Ahhh, accent walls. Flashback to the early 2000’s when every home of everyone I knew had one wall in every room painted a very bold, dramatic color. I didn’t love the look overall- like Peggi, I felt it always looked rather unfinished. Especially in homes where millwork and trim were void. I’ll tell you what I loved about it- the more bold a color choice for an accent wall, the more I noticed pattern play and textural interest happening. From a design evolution perspective that era did seem to segue nicely into a more layered, patterned and intentionally textural design era where these elements became the focal point. I agree with you Sarah, in the traditional sense of the term, I’m not on board with an accent wall. I’d rather be swimming in plum purple, or diving into deep teal, than just experiencing a snapshot. It goes the same for me when wallpaper is installed on only one wall. I also always viewed the accent wall as a low commitment solution. I have seen it done well in particular spaces, but in general it’s not what I would choose for my own home. I love the alternative examples you’ve shown here. That being said, there are no rules when determining what is right for your home. Only what makes you feel welcomed, invited into a space of joy, and comforted. In the end that’s the only feeling we’re all going for right? Cheers indeed to a colorful 2023, and more design discussions in the year ahead. I’d love your take on homes without window trim. When is it architecturally appropriate? Is it appropriate to have no window trim but doors trimmed out? If you have a home that architecturally wouldn’t require it, but you hate it, alternatives? Best practices? I don’t even know if that’s a discussion for the blog, but here’s hoping! Have a great one Sarah!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      January 25, 2023 at 8:00 am

      Good morning, Lauren! I’m playing catch up this morning. Definite early 2000s flashbacks, ha! You hit the nail on the head- and such a good observation on the bold color forcing people to get more creative with decor and textiles. I totally agree with you that home is whatever feels right and makes the homeowner happy! I’ll add the window trim discussion to the lineup- that sounds like a fun chat. I’m usually of the opinion that I like windows & doors to feel cohesive in regards to millwork / casing. Hope you have a great day! xo

  • Reply
    Colleen
    January 25, 2023 at 9:29 am

    Good Morning 🌞
    I think you gave your friend excellent advice Sarah and I agree with all your viewpoints. I personally have never painted an accent wall before but have seen a few designers do it just right that I really loved. There are so many beautiful wallpapers and as we saw on Mondays post, gorgeous ways to add interest and bring a room to the next level. But for a those of us who don’t have as much confidence or afraid of making the wrong decision it can be daunting. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with too much choice therefore decisions turns into indecisiveness 😬 Would I ever paint a bold accent wall in my home? Highly unlikely, but I’m getting more adventurous as I purchased wall paper for our kitchen in Burlington, I think I mentioned it last year. My kitchen project has been stalled for many reasons but I’m excited to get back to it in the spring. Actually I haven’t seen many designers use wallpaper in the kitchen come to think of it 🤔 Ha! I hope I like it, fingers crossed. You said it best, it’s your house, do what makes you happy 🥰
    Have a very fabulous Wednesday ❤️

  • Reply
    Lexie
    January 25, 2023 at 1:55 pm

    I don’t mind accent walls but wouldn’t do them in my home personally. I agree with just committing to painting the whole room a bold color. We have a small bathroom painted dark green, and it’s my favorite color in the house.

    Gallery walls as an alternative is an interesting suggestion, one that I feel like warrants its own design discussion post. I like them when I see pictures online, but in reality they make me feel cluttered. Plus, pictures get tipped so easily, sometimes I see a bunch of crooked pictures in a grid pattern and it drives me nuts. Also, is it a trend or a timeless design choice? I am really curious.

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